Safeguarding older Australians

The inquiry will review the laws and frameworks that safeguard older Australians from abuse

24 Febrary 2016

State Trustees welcomes Australian Law Reform Commission Inquiry into Elder Abuse

As Victoria’s public trustee, State Trustees applauds the recent announcement by Australia’s Attorney General, the Hon George Brandis QC, that he would request an inquiry into elder abuse by the Australian Law Reform Commission.

Elder abuse – and specifically financial elder abuse – occurs when someone takes advantage of a personal relationship with an elderly person to exploit them for financial gain. The inquiry will review the laws and frameworks that safeguard older Australians from abuse.

State Trustees, which is responsible for the protection of some of Victoria’s most vulnerable people, has increased its focus on the prevention of financial elder abuse in recent years, developing research, creating partnerships and educating staff to help with early detection.

As our population ages, the number of vulnerable people increases, meaning that elder abuse is becoming one of the most serious social issues affecting elderly Victorians today. In the ten years to June 2011, the number of people aged 85 and over in Victoria increased by 49 percent, highlighting the demographic challenge we face as a State.

State Trustees’ CEO Craig Dent said that the hidden nature of the crime made it difficult to track and quantify the problem, and to detect abuse and resolve issues on behalf of clients.

“It’s challenging to get a sense of the real numbers involved across Victoria. However, research State Trustees commissioned with Monash University showed that up to five percent of people aged over 65 have experienced and reported some form of financial elder abuse.

“Tragically, financial elder abuse is most commonly perpetrated by a person’s children, and State Trustees is asked to step in after the damage has been done. Because of this, it is often not be possible to recover lost property or money. This is why early detection and robust legal safeguards are so important.

“This is a subject I am personally passionate about. We must do more to protect our most vulnerable Victorians, so I welcome anything that will improve the laws and the regulatory frameworks that govern on elder abuse,” Dent said.

As a result of a renewed focus on early detection, State Trustees launched a partnership with Alzheimer’s Australia Victoria (AAV), to help professionals from both organisations who work with older Australians to identify and prevent financial elder abuse.

State Trustees’ Research shows that financial elder abuse is often perpetrated by loved ones, and is often accompanied by mental and physical abuse, which is made more acute by dementia. State Trustees’ and AAV staff are undergoing training to help them spot the signs of financial elder abuse, which include missing belongings, fear, stress and anxiety expressed by an older person, and significant bank withdrawals or transfers, to name a few.

“A high proportion of people choose to live with the abuse rather than break up a family unit or a friendship. Others live with the abuse because they don’t know where to turn to for help, they are too scared to take action. We must do more to help our elders here in Victoria,” Dent said.

“As people continue to live longer, relying on family, friends and carers for some of their daily care needs, this issue is only going to grow, so State Trustees will continue to devote resource to this problem. We believe this announcement from our Attorney General is a step in the right direction.”

At State Trustees, we strongly believe that prevention and early intervention is the key to making a difference for the ageing Victorian population. We urge anyone who thinks they could be at a risk of elder abuse now or in the future to take hands on approach with having an up-to-date will and power of attorney in place.

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